Karen --. As this piece was written in the mid-80s, it summarizes the rich sequence of changes during the Sixties quite concisely, assuming the references familiar to U.S. readers, before considering at more leisure the "devolutionary" changes that followed. I'm sure that more extensive and authoritative treatments of this rich little subject have been published (this one was not.) Jacopetti and Wainwright's book NATIVE FUNK AND FLASH (Scrimshaw Press, 1974) provides a rich and invaluable illustration of the flowering of clothing-ornament (not only on denim ground) that marked hippie clothing styles (at least in the West). Copies are still available through Bibliofind.com and similar used-book-search sites. Michael Rossman <firstname.lastname@example.org> TOWARDS A SOCIAL HISTORY OF JEANS Blue denim clothes have an earlier legacy, but the modern history of blue-jeans picks up with the "original Levi's" made in California by Levi Strauss. Stamped with frontier ambiance by the genuine brand-name brand on the genuine cowhide patch in back, and the strong copper rivets and buttons, by mid-century they were well-established and reputed here as basic pants for outdoors work and play, suitable for the country and for male children up through highschool. In rural regions it may have been the farmers' sons who wore jeans to college, as self-conscious clodhoppers. But in middle-class urban colleges during the 1950s blue-jeans appeared first as a costume among the small fringe of radical and bohemian students, replacing the khaki twills and woolens that had served them during the previous decade. Like those Army surplus trousers, which were growing scarce, blue-jeans were stout, well-made, durable, practical, and inexpensive -- altogether the thing for young adults who chose (or had) to value such qualities above style, or to value them as a style. As the l960s began, the political and social radicals became less of an isolated fringe, coming in time to set the social style for much of their generation. And as they did, blue-jeans came into fashion among their peers on campuses and off -- not yet as fashion, but as natural everyday wear. Not every young radical adopted the full uniform of the early Civil Rights workers -- denim pants and jacket, with a blue J.C. Penny workshirt -- as daily wear. But enough did that the image lingers. and surely had something to do with the way the average student came to look. By the time two million turned out to protest the Cambodian bombings and Kent State killings in l970, it seemed that half of them wore jeans. Who wore them reflected another change, for by then young women in blue-jeans here were almost as ordinary a sight as men. Their taking to pants during the 1960s was more than a surface shift of style, as it reflected the deeper currents that surfaced later during that decade in the women's movement. That the pants they chose to wear were so often jeans (rather than "ladylike" slacks) was in itself a mildly political choice -- an apt one, considering the affinities the feminist movement had with Civil Rights organizing. Meanwhile, during the 1960s, a broader cultural mutation was brewing, as students carried their changing values and ways on into life in the community. By the time the media discovered the Haight-Ashbury and the "hippie" in 1967, his and her costume came already adorned with a rainbow of flowers on a blue-denim ground. The pants, workshirt, and jacket of the SNCC and Vietnam Day Committee organizer were taken on as everyday cloth in the streets and communes of the counterculture -- as surplus of a different war, become now the raw canvas for art. Even more than on any other sort of surface or fabric, the countercultural spirits of play and of sensual relish seized on ordinary blue-denim clothing to decorate and adorn. Stray holes were patched with gold velvet, casual emblems ornamented pockets and knees. Men grown ambitious at embroidery spread peacocks down the thighs of their jeans, women stitched the backs and shoulders of denim jackets into intricate mandalas and fantasies. Even old jeans were recycled, the many hues of their faded indigos pieced into skirts and spreads of subtle patchwork. But by the time the first full-color book recording such treasures appeared, the status and meaning of blue-jeans was already changing again. Some trace the change back to when women began to wear them. For though they mainly wore men's blue-jeans at first, soon jeans tailored for women were marketed. Abandoning the fly-buttons for a zipper, they were often of thinner cloth, and of such variable style that the whole element of fashion snuck back in to subvert and disperse what had seemed an eternal integrity. Others think that blue-jeans fell to fashion when the narrow legs of the original Levi's jeans (and the slightly-wider J.C. Penny's imitations) gave way to the flared "bell-bottom" legs that the hippies liked to dance in. But I think the real dynamic was much deeper. Already, by the time the Haight-Ashbury collapsed in social sewage and the Movement turned to violence against violence, whatever in the ferment and vitality of Movement and counterculture that could be "sanitized" was being chopped into convenient fragments and catagories and sold as commodities to the larger reaches of the middle class -- who thus became the consumers of the culture generated by their young, or at least of some of its denatured and piecemeal components. >From this dynamic the whole "Human Potential" movement emerged during the 1970s. And as the public stocks of Esalen and EST soared, so did the private stocks of Levi Strauss & Co., and of the dozens of other manufacturers who jumped on the Bluejeans Bandwagon to peddle what had become a stylish commodity at rapidly-escalating prices. Soon the riot of pre-faded, pre-patchworked, and pre-streaked-with-bleach varieties gave way to cooler variations of hautier pretension, as name brands pursued the struggle for stylistic dominance onto the fashion pages. The surge in American prices and "status" came well after blue-jeans had become a hot item in France, selling for three or four times their domestic cost. Since this French passion developed among rebellious young people as a contagion from their American counterparts, it's ironic that this transplanted affection came back again to America as a signal not to rebels but to the priests of high fashion and its profits, that the time and the commodity were right. In Soviet Russia too during the 1970s the American blue-jean came to be prized among younger social dissidents, as a forbidden expression of an inchaote rebellion that took most no farther than some timid, dangerous rock-n-roll. Even this was a signal reverberating back to our shores, again ironically, reassuring Republicans that blue-jeans were truly patriotic and a weapon against Godless Communism. As the 1980s opened here, blue-jeans (or what they had become) had become a billion-dollar business. The traces of their former meanings -- as frontier and rural wear, then as costume of a subculture in ferment -- were dissolving beneath the onslaught of images and re-definitions that established them generally as modish wear, featured even in the salons of high fashion. The sensual spirit that had swelled to ornament blue ground was captured by an automated sewing-plant, and reduced to inscribing white-threaded hearts to stretch tautly across the buttocks of young women and girls, vapid symbols of invitation to a mass-produced carnality as shallow as plastic. Even such symbolism was eschewed by the high-class marketeers of "designer jeans". They prefered to emphasize silhouette and innumerable petty variations on pocket-placement and contrasting seam-stitching, aiming simply to place their names or monograms on as many rumps as possible of whatever sex, quite as if they were branding cattle. (In this they brought the tradition full circle, save that the original Levi's brand was for cowhide rather than for customers.) In such terms the designers vyed, striving for product-differentiation to exploit an overcrowded market. But the truth is that there isn't a hell of a lot you can do with blue-jeans, other than add polyester to make them crumple-free or crease-holding. They're just plain, decent pants, and one kind does about as well as any other if it's not shoddily made. Though the marketeers did try, it's hard to convince someone to need jeans that are short, long, for parties, for the snow, and of 17 different colors. In the end, all the new-come "designers" were reduced mainly to fiction, to selling by pure bogus value -- and as their competition progressed it reached remarkable heights, or depths. Gloria Vanderbilt herself sprang into the arena, presuming that the magic brand of one of America's wealthiest families upon the wearer's rump would confer desireability -- and she was right, for her jeans sold well. But the noveau-riche Calvin Klein maintained his early market advantage, exploiting prepubescent sexuality to the hilt with deliciously scandalous pictures of Brooks Shield poised for imagination to penetrate. In the media ambiance, at least, commercial smut and snobbism had become the blue-jean brand; and those who drew their values from this ambiance were glad to pay a premium to wear some hyped name around for others to see. In all this, the earlier social meanings of this clothing were not simply displaced like a fading color, but entirely reversed. Across a gulf of two decades,xw the high-cheekboned model posing in a caped pants-suit of sueded denim, with coordinate blue cotton blouse, confronted the gaunt- cheeked SNCC organizer in his rumpled jeans, jacket, and workshirt. Though both seemed equally exotic to those who still wore plain Levi's overalls or lookalikes for utility value on the farm and playground, it was hard now to see what else they had in common.
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